LET THEM EAT HOECAKE

There’s cornbread, and then there’s hoecake.

Mrs. Hate will not wax eloquently about cornbread, because it’s been done so often before and usually in such an overdone (to her) manner that those writings should suffice. She does, however, reserve the right to write (that sounds sort of linguistically funny) about cornbread at some future date as the spirit moves her.

So, now that cornbread has been summarily dismissed, let’s talk about hoecake.

And this hoecake is Mrs. Hate’s mother’s and grandmother’s style of hoecake. You’ll need:

  • white cornmeal

  • salt

  • water

  • bacon grease

  • spider

  • brown paper grocery bags

Dixie Lily stone ground cornmeal is such a great little cornmeal. That yellow thick paper-y bag, that steel ring noosing the bag top that confounded Mrs. Hate so much when she was little with those bitten-to-the-nub fingernails—but then Mrs. Hate was pretty much interested in cooking only Toll House chocolate chip cookies and 1-2-3-4 cakes, so her inability to show that steel ring who was boss (i.e. get the bag open) did not bother her too much. Hoecakes were getting a little too close to vegetables and meats, the cooking of which just did not intrigue her at this stage in her life.

Another post can delve into the meat/vegetable cooking and the lack of interest; let’s just say it had a LOT to do with having to touch raw meat.

So, back to that bread of the gods and of people with good sense…hoecake.

AND P.S.

You’ll need a Pyrex measuring cup, preferably a 4- or 8-cup.. Mrs. Hate’s not playing here—this cup is INTEGRAL to a good hoecake.

Let’s have some fun (depends on the readers’ ideas of fun) and just throw out the scratch concept of this recipe.

Throw some of that Dixie Lily cornmeal (plain) in the Pyrex cup. For help for those readers who don’t want to fly by the seat of their cooking pants, let’s say…hmmmm…close to 2 cups.

Add a goodly pinch of salt—goodly. And it’s just plain old table salt, know what I mean? Not sea salt, not kosher salt, not gourmet salt flakes.

Add enough water (from the tap is fine) to make it really runny—the fork you’re using to stir with can tell you when it’s the right consistency. If your fork isn’t telling you that, either you’ve got the wrong fork, or you’re not listening hard enough.

Confession here: it’s 6.00 a.m. Mrs. Hate time, so she’s not exactly in the kitchen stirring up some hoecake at this hour. However, she IS thinking “do I take pity on the reader and try to nail down that amount of water to use?” So, a web search finds that one suggested proportion of cornmeal to water is: 2 cups cornmeal/3.5 cups water. Personally, that sounds like a LOT of water to Mrs. Hate, but she just cannot start up the hoecake cooking at this moment. Let your sense of touch and sight be your guide. Start out—cautiously—with maybe 1 cup of water and go from there. It’s better to add more water to a batter that’s too stiff than add more cornmeal to a batter that’s too runny. Why is this so? If you went down the route of adding more cornmeal, you might end up having so much batter that you could Feed the Five Thousand, one of Mrs. Hate’s favorite phrases. (Matthew 14:13-21)

NOW comes the artistic part. Pray for guidance and creativity and a calm, yet strong spirit (these are true words here, not fluff words—you’ve got to be on your game here).

You’ve got your spider on the stove eye. Now, a reader might wonder “what the heck’s a spider?”. In Mrs. Hate’s world, a spider is a flat skillet, with just a miniscule edge around it, while a skillet has sides. It goes without saying it needs to be seasoned cast iron (search for “how to season cast iron” at this point if you’re unsure/confused/didn’t grow up with/didn’t inherit good old skillets and spiders). Which brings up ANOTHER point (there sure are a lot of points to cover). You will be so blessed if you inherit your spider. If no inheritance coming your way, try some junk shops or something similar, or buy a new one and season it yourself. Good luck.

This spider from Lodge Cookware is the closest Mrs. Hate’s seen to her spider:

Pour a thin layer of bacon grease—left over from when you had a bacon craving—on the spider and start heating things up. Start out pretty hot (near the top of the dial; perhaps yours says “high”) and then lower just a touch—or more. You’ll want the hoecake mixture to sizzle when it hits the hot grease (hoecake cooking will start to get EXTREMELY artistic here).

Hold that Pyrex cup up kind of high off the spider (and the hoecake mixture most likely will have thickened, so let your fork tell you how much more water to add—a splash or so—to make it perfectly runny…but you don’t want it to be watery).

Splash down a goodly pour of hoecake mixture. The height at which you hold the Pyrex, the thinness of the mixture, and the resulting force of the splash is what makes these hoecakes perfection (lacy edged). Now, “goodly” perversely means a SMALL enough amount so that your spider will hold three, at the most four, hoecakes. There are recipes out there that say “cover the skillet with the batter and make one big hoecake” but NO NO NO that’s not the Mrs. Hate way. You want to make maybe six or seven spider’s worth of hoecake at three to four hoecakes per spider because your family and/or guests will be eating them as fast as you make them—and that is flat the truth and it will happen. If you’re making them right—a delicate lacy edge,a  thin, firm, tender middle, and nicely golden—they are…someone please invent a better, a stronger, word than addictive.

Back to reality.

You’ve poured out, say, three hoecakes, and things are happening pretty quick now.

Get a thin metal spatula and start poking around up under the happiest hoecake edge and see if it’s firm enough to flip. You’re talking maybe a minute of cooking on this first side before turning the hoecake AND you will be twiddling with the heat AND twiddling with adding more grease as needed to keep hoecakes from sticking. Practice is the word of the hour here.

So, you’ve flipped it, you’ll cook it a little more, and the art is almost complete.

Put those hoecakes to drain on the brown paper bags. Using a paper towel to drain the grease would be so…yucky…blechhhh. You NEED that slick brown paper to make the grease behave and drain correctly so that the hoecakes will remain happy and crispy and tasty. Paper towels just make the hoecakes sad and soggy and pitiful. That heat and that grease and that steam hitting that waffly, limp paper towel? Nightmarish!!! You may, up to this point, have cooked a perfect hoecake, but if you drain them on a paper towel, your efforts will go south quick. (Mrs. Hate hates using that phrase, being Southern and all, but it is necessary here.)

If you’ve cooked them right, don’t worry about getting to sit down and eat with the folks. You’ll pretty much be standing there cooking more hoecake and will generally join the table when everyone else is about half finished eating. Mrs. Hate saw her mother do that often. Her mother was a saint, a giver, and creative to the core.

HATE POINT: not having hoecake to eat with field peas and okra and mashed potatoes and sliced tomatoes

LOVE POINT: a childhood filled with eating like this with vegetables from the garden and loving parents who were the best


SHE SMOKED UNTIL 93, LIVED UNTIL RIGHT AT 100…IS HER POUND CAKE THE SECRET TO LONG LIFE?

Granny was probably one of the very few people who could smoke and not get lung cancer or emphysema or anything mere weakling mortals would. You see, Granny was tough.

Her fingernails may have been just slightly yellow, and her Buick and little back porch may have always smelled of stale Winstons, but I’m guessing Granny’s sheer toughness repelled anything bad catching hold of her (“bad” being cancer or emphysema or such as that).

Or, was it her pound cake that formed a shield against ill health??

All I know is, she could have easily cooked a thousand pound cakes in her long life. I should know…there was usually one on the kitchen counter on Sundays for strawberry shortcake.

And what’s interesting about this to me is, Granny cooked only ONE pound cake recipe her entire life. It was a good pound cake, and it tasted the same year in and year out…a classic, if you will…but I’ve tried all sorts of pound cake recipes and enjoyed every minute of it. Furthermore, I’ve analyzed this recipe-trying trait in myself and have decided it’s very obvious that it comes down through my mother and my grandfather (Granny’s husband), in that the desire to try new things and be stimulated and curious and restless and have challenges both large and small comes from the mother and the grandfather, not from Granny.

Granny was even of temperament to the point of being functional, phlegmatic as described in the Russian tea story, and pretty much devoid of curiosity…therefore, one pound cake recipe. It would be a disservice to refer to her as “shallow”, but she certainly didn’t display her emotions. And all of that was all right, because she was Granny.

You see, Granny was about 5’3” tall, probably weighed 100 pounds, smoked Winstons until she was 93 (and only quit then when the cute young doctor told her she needed to), had a worm bed a.k.a. compost bed that was beyond superb, had Guillain-Barre syndrome in the 1950s and was in an iron lung machine, got hit in the head when she was 80 for her pocketbook in a Greyhound bus station bathroom on the way back from visiting older sister in New Orleans (I cried when I went to Granny’s house across the road to check on her as soon as she got back, but Granny didn’t cry), picked pecans up in the sleet in November at age 93 (bending straight over from the waist to pick them up), shot at cows with a BB gun when she said they were putting their hooves in the cow trough and messing up the water, chopped snakes’ heads off with a hoe, drove home from her mountain house, a 6-hour trip, at age 89…89!!!…all by herself with double vision and said “oh, I just shut one eye and then I would see only one car coming”, and lived to be almost 100.

Why be creative and curious when you can do all that??

WIthout further ado, here is Granny’s pound cake recipe. Frequently served with strawberries crushed up with a little sugar and whipped cream for…ta-da…strawberry shortcake. It should last close to a week before a little staleness might start creeping in, but—as we all know from reading so very many cookbooks—pound cakes tend to improve after the first day or two and get moister and moister and moister.

 

GRANNY’S POUND CAKE

1  2/3 cups sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

2  1/3 cups sifted cake flour

5 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

***

Mix the standard way

Bake at 325 for 1 hour and 10 minutes in a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan

HATE POINT:  I’m a little afraid of being bushwacked by a pound cake hit squad being sent after me, but…cream cheese pound cake and sour cream pound cake
LOVE POINT:  loving that hopefully one gets such an interesting mix of character traits and personal quirks from all parts of the family gene pool that each individual will make his or her own unique way in this world, enjoy life to the hilt, and be thankful for their family heritage


HOW MATT MADE BISCUITS, CIRCA 1962

Mrs. Hate looooves biscuits. You can’t say it any plainer than that.

How do I love thee, O Biscuit?

Let me count the ways:

  • biscuits with butter
  • biscuits with blackberry jelly
  • biscuits with crabapple jelly
  • biscuits with fig preserves
  • biscuits with honey
  • biscuits with Flowing Gold syrup
  • biscuits with pan sausage
  • biscuits with country ham
  • biscuits leftover, halved, buttered, and put under broiler the next day

And then, of course, you’ve got throwing in some stale biscuits when making your dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas AND, every now and then, playing around with turning them into a sort of biscuit pudding.

Picture a small country town in South Georgia circa 1962. There’s a farm—not too big, not too little—with a maid (who now would be referred to as a housekeeper)—not too skinny, not too fat (and this description is important for reasons discussed later)—wearing a white uniform. There will never be a better biscuit maker than Matt, point said.

Mrs. Hate remembers Matt as representing security, stability, love, kindness—all attributes we all need to possess, and our possession begins by having them demonstrated to us by others. Matt was a part of the nascency of these attributes in Mrs. Hate; her talent in biscuit-making was perfection, but her kindness and love superseded even biscuits. Love and kindness are eternal, the eating of a biscuit temporal. But the memories of those biscuits and the loving hands that made them…goodness gracious, what memories…

Now, as all good cooks have the talent of making things looks easy (in other words, things you THINK are so simple, but in reality there’s a knack to it so that sometimes you end up banging your head against the wall and say “why can’t I just COOK this and make it turn out right? there’s ONLY THREE LITTLE INGREDIENTS!!! Mrs. Hate’s getting worked up a little here in case you couldn’t tell), Matt didn’t disappoint in making biscuit-making look easy.

So what are the three little ingredients for Matt’s biscuits that can make strong women cry—and then headbutt the wall??

 

  • White Lily self-rising flour

  • Crisco shortening

  • buttermilk (whole please, not fat-free)

 

 

alas…no image of Land O’Lakes whole buttermilk could be found,

so just imagine your local grocery store’s buttermilk pictured here

**sidebar** of course, it’s much more traditional to use plain (all-purpose) White Lily flour and add your baking powder and salt, but MY MAMA said it was okay to use self-rising flour, and MY MAMA was as Old South scratch cooking as there could be.  R.I.P. Mimi—we still talk about you, dream about you, wonder about you, analyze you.

So, back to the biscuits.

Now Matt could make biscuits without measuring…of course!!  (headbutt time on the coolness and savoir faire of no measuring)

She would pour the flour into a what we called dough bowl, which was an old (again, of course!! wasn’t EVERYTHING old in Mrs. Hate’s childhood??) wooden bowl with dimpled gouges here and there. The gouges sure didn’t come from biscuit making, because all of that’s “by hand”, but probably just came from handling and slamming the bowl around when throwing it in the cabinet. (“Throwing” is showing up more and more in these little stories—one would think there was a lot of VIOLENCE and PASSION and SOUTHERN GOTHIC-NESS going on in the household, but no, it was just a busy little place.)

So, back to the biscuits for the second time.

**second sidebar** the buttermilk should be cold (don’t get it out beforehand to come to room temperature like you would generally do with cake-making), and IMPORTANT NOTE:  always keep the Crisco in the refrigerator…you want it to be cold for biscuit making, and refrigeration also keeps it from going a little rancid.

Spoon in some Crisco (shortening) and get those little fingertips working. You want to just riffff the Crisco into the flour with a delicate touch of thumb rolling the Crisco over the fingertips, primarily the index and middle fingers, with a little ring finger action for extra riffff.  Little finger not really necessary. Think on that statement.

You will have MAGICALLY known how much Crisco was necessary. If your magic levels are low on biscuit-making day, let’s say a couple of big spoonfuls (a little over 1/4 cup) of Crisco—the size of spoon you dish up vegetables with—and the flour (backtracking here) should be maybe 2 cups would do’ya.

And, if you’re a voracious, insatiable, manic, lunatic-crazy cookbook reader, surely you will have read all through the years about “work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are pea-sized lumps, but they don’t have to all be exactly the same size, you need some variation for flakiness blahblahblah”. All that is true. Plus (and often you will read this) you don’t want to overwork the dough; toughness results. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but toughness should not be in the heart of a biscuit.

Okay, and moving right along…

Get the buttermilk out of the refrigerator (whole, remember—the thought of low-fat buttermilk makes Mrs. Hate hate), shake it up good (so all the yummy fat is distributed), and pour in enough (about 1 cup) to make a slightly sticky dough when stirred with a fork (there’s that magic fork again which, after having tended to the hoecakes, is now tending to the biscuits—that fork earns its keep in this kitchen!!). And some folks even have special forks treasured for biscuit making and other cooking odds and ends…Mrs. Hate has HEARD of this and even seen a PICTURE of this…and the fork just looks like an old broke-down fork with maybe a tine or two missing. Will wonders never cease!!

So, you’ve stirred the dough, it’s sticky (searching for comparable analogy here—is that a somewhat redundant pairing of words?—and failing miserably), and now time to get a little creative like you did with the hoecakes.

Get the dough board out (not bowl), flour it with a handful of flour and swoop it around on the board, throw the dough on the board, dust your hands with flour, and lightly, gently knead for a few turns. So pretty when it’s done right. It goes from a sticky and slighty damp-ish looking mess to an immaculately smooth ball with a dull flour finish, if you do it right…just saying. Just thinking about that smooth dough ball takes Mrs. Hate back back back to that time in her childhood when she and her parents and her sisters and Matt were healthy and energetic and young.

Rolling pin or pat out the dough?? Let’s end up with a rolling pin, with a little flour dusted on it. Put your dough ball on the floured board, pat it with your hands a little to get the thing started, then lightly press/roll with pin.

The dough needs to be in the neighborhood of ⅜” thick. You can go a little more or less thick depending on your vision of a perfect biscuit. Personal preference is perfectly proper here (looove that alliteration…if any reader has seen Brideshead Revisited—the one with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews—the Anthony Blanche character was a m-m-m-master of stuttering alliteration).

Cut the biscuits out. A 2-3” biscuit cutter is recommended. However, in a pinch, one could take an old (Good Lordamercy, were Mrs. Hate’s folks packrats with old stuff  or WHAT?!?!?!?) jelly jar, place it on the dough, and use a sharp knife tip to cut around the jar rim. Eureka!!! Biscuits!!!

Place the biscuits—all touching, please, all cozy and nestled next to each other—in a cast iron SKILLET, not a SPIDER (see hoecake post). Or, entirely okay to put the biscuits in old aluminum pie plate or even a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Some people like to spritz the pie plate or Pyrex with a little Pam—hmmmm on that, as Matt sure didn’t use any of that Pam stuff back in 1962. And please be advised here that a biscuit pan is kind of whatever, but cornbread is really only made in an iron skillet. Sometimes at holidays a Pyrex dish is okay for cornbread because the sad truth is it’s going to be crumbled up for dressing anyway, but for eating cornbread on its own, you really, really need an iron skillet to develop the crispy cornbread crust…another post, another day, and another alliteration.

You’re looking at probably a dozen biscuits here, maybe fewer. Just depending.

An oven temperature of 500 degrees sounds mighty high, but it works.

And before oven-time, some people melt some butter in a bowl (confession: microwave) and use fingertips (why bother using a brush?) to slide some butter around on the top of raw biscuit.

Handy Tip:  it would behoove you to always have some Land O’Lakes butter on hand, and unsalted is really all you need—most of the time, like 99.9% of the time.


 

Almost done, you hanging-in-there readers you!!

Take the biscuits out when golden-y brown on top (ten-ish minutes or so).

And as good as they are same-morning/dinner/supper made, they are equally as delicious next morning prepared this way:

Split them, put a little softened butter on cut surface, put on cookie sheet with tin foil on it (or you can get all free-spirited and just put them on whatever…skillet, cookie sheet, old roasting tray, it’s okay), have that oven on BROIL, place in oven with door kind of cracked open and check verrrry frequently—it won’t take long. You just want them lightly toastified with a little crunchy thing going on. Heavenly.

And why was it important to describe Matt as being not too skinny and not too fat??

Matt, that precious angel on Earth, developed stomach cancer. Mrs. Hate’s mother and Matt were very close, and MHM (trying out this acronym here for brevity and typing efficiency) talked so long and so hard to Matt about going to the doctor, but Matt was a Jehovah’s Witness, and there are lots of Witness beliefs about medical procedures, blood transfusions, etcetera. No matter how much Matt loved MHM, she just couldn’t bring herself to go to the doctor.

So the wonderful Matt got cancer-skinny, but with a swollen stomach. In the saddest of ways, she was both too skinny and too fat. However, she was still perfect, of course, because love and kindness exist no matter our physical condition.

HATE POINT:  canned biscuits

LOVE POINT:  Matt and the memory of her sweet face